You would think that after 20 years as a DCE working with 25 volunteers in the field of youth ministry, I would be an expert at building a volunteer corps for a youth ministry program. However, I am still learning from my mistakes, from conferences and books, learning from others in the ministry, and learning, most importantly, from the priesthood of all believers, the volunteers themselves.
This is the heart of what I’ve discovered:
When Recruiting Volunteers, Ask People Directly.
Blanket invitations aren’t effective when looking to fill a specific role or position. I have found that a brief face-to-face interaction with the prospective volunteer works well. I tell them why I think they would be good at the particular job and offer a simple statement on what the commitment involves and ask them to pray about their involvement. I then follow up a week or two later answering questions and giving more detail. A trial period is sometimes useful to let them get their feet wet before making a final commitment.
Train Them Well.
Take time to meet with each person individually and meet with all volunteers as a team to develop their skills and to study and apply Scripture to their role as a volunteer. Take our volunteers to training events and conferences, and continue to train them no matter how good they get.
Build a Great Team.
It is a gift from God to be able to work alongside other believers who love youth. Just as youth enjoy attending youth group when with friends, volunteers will keep coming if they are with friends. Building a team means building friendships with volunteers and among volunteers. Volunteers need to see themselves as an important part of a team, modeling Christ-like friendships to youth. I take every opportunity to talk with my volunteers about teamwork, to pray as a team, and to request prayers for the team from youth, parents, and the church.
Give Them Specific Jobs.
In recruiting volunteers to work in youth ministry with specific age groups, it is necessary to help them discover their gifts and utilize their personalities. I currently have a high school youth ministry team that consists of me, my co-worker in youth ministry, and four volunteers. We all have similar personality traits that help us be effective in working with teenagers. We also have many different gifts. I have the gifts of teaching and administration. My co-worker has the gift of evangelism. One volunteer has the gift of faith, another the gift of helping, and another the gift of mercy. It would be foolish to give the volunteer with mercy the role of recruiting and greeting first-time youth; she serves more effectively as a compassionate listener to individual youth who need to talk. Similarly, my coworker is great at greeting first-time youth, I do much of the upfront teaching, one volunteer leader handles details with her gift of helps, and another is great at encouraging discipleship with his gift of faith. Volunteers will thrive when their job or role is matched up with their personality and spiritual gifts.
In order to build and maintain a healthy volunteer corps, it is also important to do the following:
Appreciate your volunteers frequently, in different settings, and in a variety of ways.
Know that Conflict will happen. Know this and honestly deal with it proactively when it happens and with Christ’s love and forgiveness. Conflict can make a team stronger.
Volunteers need to Connect to the church in adult ways to better serve a youth program.
Spiritual Food is very important for volunteers. Encourage your volunteers to be in regular adult Bible Study groups, to worship, and to practice personal devotion and prayer.
Give a youth ministry volunteer the option to Leave if he or she needs to. There is a time for everything under the sun, and volunteers need to know it is okay to take a leave of absence, a holiday, to graduate, or to retire from youth ministry without guilt. Celebrate their time of service and then set them free.
I praise God for the volunteers who have given of themselves, their time, their energy, their resources, and their gifts to be in ministry with the youth of our congregation. May we keep on learning from them as we minister together in the priesthood of all believers.
Cheri Selander is a Director of Christian Education for Christ Lutheran Church in La Mesa, California. She has been involved in youth ministry for over 20 years.